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Hagerstown Fire Dept. lands federal grants on its own

June 27, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Although the City of Hagerstown in January hired a lobbying firm to help the city obtain federal funding, the Hagerstown Fire Department has gone it alone, with some success.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said the fire department didn't use a lobbyist to land nearly $2 million in grant money since 2002.

A committee made up of firefighters typically joins forces to write grants, he said. If they hit a snag, other fire departments in Washington County lend a hand -- even though they are competing against each other -- because "the pot (of available federal funding) is so big," Hawbaker said.

The first attempt to land grants in 2002 was unsuccessful, but Hawbaker said the firefighters learned enough to improve their technique and, in 2003, they received two grants totaling about $32,000. The amount steadily increased.

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This year, the fire department received $948,825 in federal grants, he said.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, said he is willing to help the city obtain federal funding for its projects with or without professional help.

"I am working with the City of Hagerstown and the (Washington) County Commissioners," Bartlett said in a prepared statement. "Lobbyists are not needed for me in assisting with their request. If they hire lobbyists, that is up to them, but lobbyists are not needed for my assistance."

Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., wrote in an e-mail that Mikulski met with Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and representatives of The Ferguson Group earlier this year.

"At that time, Sen. Mikulski explained that she receives far more requests than can be funded, and does what she can to fight for priority projects," the e-mail said. "She also encouraged them to look at competitive grant opportunities ... Sen. Mikulski's door is always open to the City of Hagerstown."

Sue Walitsky, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Cardin also is open to discussing federal funding opportunities with the City of Hagerstown.

"Sen. Cardin is working with Hagerstown and other Maryland cities to get funding every day," Walitsky said. "Getting (federal money) for Maryland is a part of his agenda."

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